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News and Opinion

F&G INVESTIGATES WOLF KILLING NEAR CLAYTON

Wolf suspected of elk hunting shot near state Highway 75
by JASON KAUFFMAN, Idaho Mountain Express

It was the circling of jet-black ravens that first caught Stanley wolf advocate Lynne Stone's attention.

Driving between Stanley and Challis on state Highway 75 in the early morning hours of April 4, the sharp-eyed Stone pulled over to the side of the two-lane road to see why the birds were circling.

Looking toward the wide-open field on the north side of the Salmon River where the birds were congregating, she quickly saw what their attention was drawn to.

"I immediately knew it was a black wolf," she said.

Stone said she found the dead wolf near Peach Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River west of Clayton, a small rural community on Highway 75 halfway between Stanley and Challis. She said the wolf was lying on private property.

"The people that live near there apparently heard shots," she said.

Stone said that as she walked up to the dead wolf, she couldn't see any human tracks approaching the animal carcass. She said evidence she saw suggests what the wolf was up to right before it was shot.

"The tracks looked like the wolf was chasing elk," she said.

The lack of human tracks in the snowy field makes her think the person who shot it did so from a distance and didn't approach to investigate.

"Somebody shot it off the edge of the highway," she surmised.

After observing and taking photos of the dead wolf, Stone left to report her find to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. She found two Fish and Game conservation officers from Challis—Mark Armbruster and Merritt Horsmon—about six miles down the road. She said they were loading an elk that wolves had killed in someone's backyard.

Stone said she drove back to the wolf carcass with Armbruster and Horsmon.

"I went back with them because I wanted to explain that there weren't footprints," she said.

Stone said the bloodied trail in the snow indicated the wolf didn't die immediately after being shot.

"He ran 50 yards and spun in circles," she said.

Stone said the entry and exit wounds indicated the wolf was shot through the abdomen.

"It was pretty gruesome," she said. "The wolf was still warm."

Stone said the dark-colored wolf, which was sporting a radio collar, was wolf B160. She said the male wolf was known to be the alpha male of the Morgan Creek wolf pack, which apparently had its alpha female killed last fall.

On Thursday, Armbruster said the wolf killing is still under investigation.

In another indication of just how much has changed since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted gray wolves in the Northern Rockies states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming on March 28, Armbruster said he's investigating the shooting as an illegal out-of-season killing of a big game animal. He said he's investigating the incident just as he would with any other species the Fish and Game classifies as a big game animal, "the same as we would a closed-season deer."

Armbruster said the penalty for poaching a big game animal is different from species to species. The stiffest fines for poaching big game animals in Idaho are for species like mountain goat, bighorn sheep and moose and can run as high as $1,500.

An amendment to Idaho state law recently passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter covers wolves actively preying on livestock and domestic animals, including pets. The law allows private individuals to kill wolves molesting or attacking their animals. No permit is necessary, but the killing must be reported to Fish and Game within 72 hours, unless the site is remote. The department received no such report for the April 4 shooting.

According to Fish and Game, a livestock or pet owner must decide whether the wolf is actively "molesting" or attacking livestock or domestic animals. Under the revised state law, molesting is defined as "the actions of a wolf that are annoying, disturbing or persecuting, especially with hostile intent or injurious effect, or chasing, driving, flushing, worrying, following after or on the trail of, or stalking or lying in wait for, livestock or domestic animals," a Fish and Game news release states.

"'Worrying?' A wolf is 'worrying' your poodle so you shoot the wolf?" Stone asked.

The amended law does not allow people to pursue and kill a wolf away from the site when the wolf no longer is molesting or attacking the livestock or domestic animals.

Elsewhere this week, Fremont County prosecuting attorney Karl Lewies announced that no charges will be filed in a case involving the shooting of two male wolves west of Ashton in eastern Idaho on April 1.

"In my opinion, there is 'reasonable doubt' whether the wolves were, or were not, molesting livestock or domestic animals," Lewies wrote in a letter to Fish and Game.

The case was the first reported incident of wolves being shot in Idaho since they were delisted. Fish and Game conservation officers and the county prosecutor's office investigated it.

"I have determined that no charges will be filed," Lewies wrote.


This story first appeared in the idaho Mountain Express April 18, 2008.
http://www.mtexpress.com/index2.php?ID=2005120341

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